The opening-weekend festivities of this year’s NFL playoffs were dampened by the news that ESPN anchor Stuart Scott died Sunday from cancer at the age of 49. Originally hired in 1993 as an on-air reporter for ESPN2—which at the time was conceived as a hipper, more youthful companion to the main network—Scott soon transcended the alternative trappings of “The Deuce” and established himself as a mainstay on ESPN’s SportsCenter, usually teamed with Rich Eisen for the 1 a.m. broadcast.
The SportsCenter anchor desk is where Scott most powerfully influenced the voice of ESPN—and the voice of modern sports broadcasting. Scott was one of the most prominent black talents at the network, and he embraced the distinction on air. He would often adopt the intonation of an African-American preacher; a remembrance at ESPN.com recalls an instance when Scott refused to rewrite a mention of a black fraternity in his copy when a producer suggested he mention Animal House instead: “That movie was made two decades ago, and black fraternities have been around since 1906,” Stuart told his producer.
The intersection of sports and hip-hop is taken for granted today, but it wasn’t such a given in the mid-’90s when Stuart was peppering his exuberant highlight patter with hip-hop references—and perfect catchphrases like “as cool as the other side of the pillow.” Scott’s forward-looking ability to mix sports with pop culture gave him a potent mix of coolness and gravitas that endured through the ensuing decades, even at times when ESPN’s overall respectability has come into question.
Scott’s old partner Eisen, now at NFL Network, delivered a moving tribute to his colleague shortly after hearing the news yesterday:
Later that night, Eisen filled a highlight of the Bengals-Colts game with Stuart Scott catchphrases, complete with the obligatory “Boo-yah!” (or “Boo-yow!” as Scott insisted it was spelled):
And last summer, Scott accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs with a speech in which he talked about his struggle with cancer and the strength he’d drawn from the community around him: